Penn State Football: Updating the Nittany Lions All-Time Team

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John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

Back in 2011, after having researched extensively only to find a dearth of articles regarding an All-Time Penn State Nittany Lions football team, I wrote the following article that can be found at:

While writing the article, I thought that it would take an extraordinarily talented player to break into Penn State’s all-time lineup. That certainly proved to be the case. Here is the updated pre-2018 edition of Penn State’s all-time football team.

QB: Kerry Collins

Collins won the Maxwell Award as the outstanding player in college football in 1994 and earns the selection over fellow Maxwell Award winner and Heisman trophy runner-up Chuck Fusina. Collins was the conductor of arguably the greatest offense in college football history. In 1994, Collins completed 66.7 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 172.86.

Current Penn State quarterback Tracey McSorley is being touted as a Heisman candidate in 2018 and may end up owning most of Penn State’s career passing records by the time he is through. Having led Penn State to two major bowl games, a stellar senior season may put McSorley in the discussion as Penn State’s all-time quarterback.

RB: Saquon Barkley

What can be said about Saquon Barkley that has not already been said? Just watching his jaw-dropping runs speaks volumes and yet leaves one speechless. Statistics do not tell the story of Barkley but yet he is the first Penn State running back to gain over 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving and he accomplished that by midway of his junior season. His 358 total yards against Iowa set a new Penn State single game total yardage record.

Barkley is second in career rushing yardage with 3,843 in only three seasons and is Penn State’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage with 5,038 yards. Barkley is only one of two running backs at Penn State to be named an All-American twice. The other joins him in the all-time Penn State backfield.

RB: Curt Warner

An All-American in 1981 and 1982, upon graduation Warner was Penn State’s all-time leading rusher with 3,398 yards. He is still Penn State’s all-time leader in 100-yard games with 18.

In 1981, Warner set the record for most yards rushing in a game with 256 yards against Syracuse. A few weeks later, Warner rushed for 238 yards against Nebraska in Lincoln, which Husker fans still remember.

Warner led Penn State in rushing for three consecutive seasons and was at his best in bowl games, rushing for over 100 yards against Ohio State, USC, and Georgia. Warner was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

When Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti and All-Americans such as Ki-Jana Carter, Blair Thomas, Charlie Pittman, Lydell Mitchell, Curtis Enis and Larry Johnson do not make your starting lineup, that verifies that Penn State’s history of running backs is certainly a rich and an illustrious one.

WR: Bobby Engram

Winner of the Biletnikoff Award in 1994 and generally recognized as Penn State’s finest wide receiver, Engram is Penn State’s career receiving yards leader and was the first Penn State receiver to have over 1,000 yards receiving in a season – and he did it twice.

WR: Kenny Jackson

A two-time All-American in 1982 and 1983, Jackson was Blackledge’s main receiving target on Penn State’s 1982 national championship team. His 25 career touchdown receptions still rank second in Penn State history behind Engram’s 31.

Had Allen Robinson stayed for his senior season, he may well have been in the top two receivers in Penn State history. Robinson earned All-America status in 2013 and that season set Penn State’s single-season yards receiving mark. Along with Engram, Robinson is the only other Penn State wide receiver with two 1,000-yard plus receiving seasons.

While Mike Gesicki set new career and single season receiving records for a tight end at Penn State, the position of tight end on the all-time squad still belongs to Ted Kwalick.

TE: Ted Kwalick

When asked about Kwalick, Joe Paterno said, “What God had in mind when he made a football player.” Penn State’s first two-time All-American in ’67 and ’68, Kwalick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.

OT: Keith Dorney

A two-time All-American tackle in 1977 and 1978, Dorney helped lead Penn State to a 22-2 record during those seasons. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

OT: Levi Brown

A four-year starter and two-time second team All-American tackle in 2005 and 2006, Brown’s play helped open up holes for running back Tony Hunt, enabling Hunt to rush for over 3,000 yards in his career.

C: Glenn Ressler

Ressler was an All-American and the Maxwell Award winner in 1964. He gets the nod over All-American and Rimington Award winner A.Q. Shipley. Ressler was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

OG: Sean Farrell

A two-time All-American in 1980 and 1981, Farrell helped open the holes for Curt Warner to become Penn State’s then all-time leading rusher.

OG: Jeff Hartings

A two-time All-American in 1994 and 1995 and leader on the offensive line of one of college football’s most prolific offenses.

AP: Lenny Moore

For Penn State’s all-purpose player, who better than Penn State’s finest all-around football player, Lenny Moore?

In addition to playing running back, Moore was also a standout defensive back and had 10 career interceptions while at Penn State. In 1954, Moore averaged 8.0 yards per carry and 17.5 yards on punt returns.

Simply put, Moore could do it all, and do it all very well, and went on to be an NFL Hall-of-Famer. Paterno said, “Lenny Moore was probably the best football player I’ve ever coached, all-around. He was super.”  That is good enough for me.

PR:  O.J. McDuffie

McDuffie was one of the most electrifying and exciting players in Penn State history. He led Penn State in punt returns for three seasons. In 1989, he averaged 14.8 yards per return, and in 1991 he had two punt returns for touchdowns.

KR: Curt Warner

Warner is second all-time in career kickoff return average with a 28.8-yard average and a record three touchdowns on 32 returns. In 1979, Warner averaged 29 yards per return on 17 returns and in 1980; he bettered that as two of his 10 returns went for touchdowns and averaged 35 yards per return.

K:  Matt Bahr

An All-American in 1978, Bahr made four field goals in a game four times that season finishing with 22 that season and a field goal percentage of .815. Matt’s brother, Chris, was also an All-American, and had more field goals of over 50 yards than Matt, but Matt was the more accurate of the two.

P:  John Bruno

Bruno is the only punter in Penn State history to have over 200 punts with only one block and average over 40 yards per punt. Bruno is best known for his punting in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl and national championship game, forcing Miami to have long drives against Penn State’s tough defense.

It remains to be seen but Penn State’s current punter Blake Gillikin, after his two seasons has a 43.0 punting average good for a tie with George Reynolds trailing only Jeremy Boone’s average of 43.1. Gillikin may be on his way to becoming Penn State’s all-time punter.

In turning to the defense, Penn State’s all-time defensive line and linebackers may be the best of any school in the country.

DT:  Mike Reid and Bruce Clark

Both Reid and Clark won the Outland Trophy and were recognized as the best interior lineman in the country.

Reid won the Maxwell Award in 1969 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of fame in 1987. He was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century team.

Clark was the first junior to win the Lombardi Award and was an All-American again as a senior. Perhaps no other pair of defensive tackles from any school would be considered as dominant as Reid and Clark, with perhaps some consideration for Nebraska’s Rich Glover and Ndamukong Suh.

DE: Courtney Brown and Michael Haynes

Brown and Haynes were two outstanding pass rushers for the Nittany Lions. Brown was an All-American in 1999 and Haynes an All-American in 2002.

Brown holds Penn State’s career sack record (33) and career tackles for loss (70). Haynes led Penn State in sacks for three consecutive seasons and had 15 sacks in 2002. Some may call for Tamba Hali to be one of Penn State’s all-time defensive ends, but Haynes’ career and career numbers are more impressive.

Lombardi winner Carl Nassib may have had the most impressive season of a Penn State defensive end in 2015 setting a Penn State sack record with 16, but for overall career body of work, Nassib does not surpass Brown and Haynes.

One was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, another is Penn State’s single-season tackle leader and yet another won the Bednarik Award and is Penn State’s all-time leader in tackles, but none of them got selected to Penn State’s all-time team!

That is why Penn State is called Linebacker U. If one wasn’t a two-time All American linebacker, it diminished one’s chances of making Penn State’s all-time team. For my selections, we’re going to go with four linebackers using a 4-4-3 defense that Paterno used in the ‘60s to bring Penn State into national prominence.

LB: Paul Posluszny

Not only was Posluszny an All-American in 2005 and 2006, but he also won the Butkus Award and was a two-time winner of the Bednarik Award as the outstanding defensive player in the country. Posluszny was Penn State’s all-time leader tackler when he graduated.

LB: Dennis Onkotz

Onkotz laid the foundation for Penn State to become Linebacker U. He was a two-time first-team All-American in 1968 and 1969, and a second-team All-American in 1967. Onkotz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

Onkotz was athletic enough to return punts for the Nittany Lions, averaging over 13 yards per return. He has the most career interceptions of any Penn State linebacker with 11, averaging 25 yards on interception returns with three for touchdowns.

LB: Lavar Arrington

A two-time All-American in 1998 and 1999, Arrington was the recipient of the Butkus Award in 1999 as the nation’s premier linebacker. He also won the Bednarik Award that year as the outstanding defensive player in the country.

His athletic ability made him a big-play defensive weapon on defense. Arrington finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999 and was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1998 – as a sophomore.

LB: Shane Conlan

Conlan was a two-time All-American and the linchpin on a defense that led Penn State to back-to-back National Championship games for the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

Paterno said of Conlan, “We’ve never asked a linebacker to do as many things as we’ve asked him to do.” Conlan showed his greatness playing like an All-American in both championship games and had two interceptions against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to help Penn State win a national championship.

The list of some of those who were not selected is very impressive as well. Jack Ham, All-American in 1970 and inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990; Greg Buttle, All-American in 1975 and Buttle still holds the single-season tackle record with 165 in 1974; and Dan Connor, Bednarik Award winner in 2007 and Penn State’s all-time career tackle leader.

DB: Alan Zemaitis

Zemaitis twice led Penn State in interceptions finishing with 12 and set a Big Ten record in 2003 with 207 yards on interception returns. In 2005, Zemaitis had six interceptions and was named second team All-American.

DB: Neal Smith

Smith, an All-American in 1969, is still Penn State’s career interception leader with 19 nearly 50 years after his playing days. Smith’s single-season interception mark of 10 passes in 1969 has never been bettered and matched only by Pete Harris in 1978. Smith intercepted eight passes in 1968 and his 1968 and 1969 interception marks are two of the five highest in Penn State history.

DB: Mark Robinson

Robinson, a hard-hitting safety, was named All-American in 1982 and was instrumental in helping to stop Herschel Walker in the Sugar Bowl for Penn State’s first national championship.

At some positions, one can make a strong case for any number of players, so deep are the Lions in their football history. Few schools can compare with Penn State’s all-time team, particularly the defensive line and linebackers. It is little wonder why Penn State is called Linebacker U.

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John Baranowski

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

Penn State Football: Upda…

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